5 things you may not know about artist Summer Wheat, plus a virtual tour of her Brooklyn studio

5 things you may not know about artist Summer Wheat, plus a virtual tour of her Brooklyn studio

One silverlining of being quarantined at home is the opportunity to see and share experiences that we might not normally be able to experience. Enter our favorite new video pastime: artist interviews and studio tours. Mint’s Chief Curator Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, joined Brooklyn-based artist Summer Wheat in her studio for a bit of show-and-tell on her technique and processes.

Wheat’s painting Side With Shoulder is part of the newest New Days, New Works exhibition, and her atrium installation Foragers will be on view throughout the fall. Here are a few fun facts that we learned during Wheat’s studio tour.

  • Summer Wheat is originally from Oklahoma City, OK, attended Savannah College of Art and Design, and has been living and working in Brooklyn, NY for the past 11 years.
  • She has created in many mediums, from painting and sculpture, to even making custom salt and pepper shakers. Wheat says that she “likes the idea of taking a drawing and making it something usable.”
  • Her creative process is two-fold: First, she always starts with a drawing, which she does alone and views this as an intimate space. Then she brings the drawing to the studio where she and her team make the ideas come to life.
  • Her installation on the windows of the Mint Museum Uptown’s atrium will be her third large-scale piece using this material, and reminds her of stained glass. “I wanted to start telling stories in this format,” says Wheat, who is excited to tell impactful stories through visuals, color, and dimension.
  • When the Mint opens, you’ll get to see not only Wheat’s atrium installation, but also her painted piece Side With Shoulder that uses mesh in our newest exhibition New Days, New Works.

 

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Fiber artist Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi spearheads exhibition of quilts in response to George Floyd’s death

Known as one of the most influential African American quilt historians in the United States, Carolyn Mazloomi, PhD, who was trained as an aerospace engineer, has artwork showcased in numerous important museums around the world, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and American Museum of Design.

Fiber artist Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi’s passion for educating through art leads her to curate We Are the Story 

She thought she’d be settled into retirement by now, but Carolyn Mazloomi’s passion for her art pushes her to keep making, curating and working. Mazloomi, who earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California and worked as a pilot and Federal Aviation Administration crash site investigator, became involved in fiber artists and quilting in the early 1970s, and founded the Women of Color Quilters Network in 1985. She currently is spearheading and curating the exhibition We Are the Story, set to open at various sites throughout Minneapolis later this summer. The exhibition is a response to the death of George Floyd in the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

We Are the Story is a series of six quilt exhibitions by the Women of Color Quilters Network, and Textile Center created under the curatorial direction of Mazloomi. The series is organized around the themes of remembering those lost to police brutality, history of civil rights, and racism in America.

“I am an artist quiltmaker, and I like to tell stories,” says Mazloomi. “Most of the work I do deals with issues of race or status of women, and a lot of the work is somewhat controversial, but I hope viewers look at it and learn something and think about things and how things possibly could be.” 

As a mother and grandmother, Mazloomi was rocked when she saw the video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground, and heard him cry out for his mother.

“It just shook me to my core. I cried for days because it was sad and tragic how he passed. But hearing him call for his mother personified the role of women in the sphere of the universe,” she says.

Mazloomi is a believer in the dynamic power of females, and has been involved in the economic development of women through the arts for over 30 years. Throughout her career of making textile art, many of her works showcase the women and their strong role in society. 

“Young women need to know about the power they wield. As women, we are the  first teachers because we give birth. We are the teachers of humanity. It’s a position that influences all of humanity,” she says. “The first word a baby learns is usually mama and it’s so strange that the last thing a human being may talk about when dying is their mother. They call on their mother.”

A self-proclaimed news addict, she listens to news while she works. Her quilts serve as a response to what’s going on in her environment, and the world, and is meant to evoke thought. 

“My inspiration always comes from the environment around me. Currently the environment is very toxic, so I’m creating work about human condition — not just here in the United States, but of refugees around the world because women and children form the greater population of refugees,” she says. 

When asked what she hopes to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now, she answers with the wisdom, patience and hopeful tone of someone who has weathered years of society’s injustice.

“Let’s deal with the pandemic first,” she says. “Because African Americans are disproportionately affected, they are dying more than anyone else,” she says. “Hopefully out of this pandemic, maybe it will help African Americans. They have health issues brought about due to racism because they don’t have access to good housing and healthcare, which plays into susceptibility to the virus.” 

Thirteen people in the Women of Color Quilters Network died due to COVID-19. She and other members of the network collectively made more than 27,000 masks that were given to healthcare workers, nonprofit organizations, funeral homes and other places of need.

“When it comes to protests, I am happy to see protesters aren’t just African Americans, but a diverse group of people around the country,” says Mazloomi. “Anything that can prompt racial equality and justice in America is a good thing. Hopefully something good will come of these demonstrations, and our government and individuals will make efforts to be more civil to one another and see equality for all American citizens.”

Mazloomi was awarded the first Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award in 2003. Ohio Heritage Fellows are among the state’s living cultural treasures.  Fellows embody the highest level of artistic achievement in their work, and the highest level of service in the teaching and other work they do in their communities to ensure that their artistic traditions stay strong. In 2014 Dr. Mazloomi was given the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, the highest award in the nation for traditional art.  She was also inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame Museum the same year.

Mazloomi’s quilt Gathering of Spirits has been part of The Mint Museum collection since 1999, and is set to be on view in the Schiff-Bresler Family Fiber Art Gallery at Mint Museum Uptown in February 2021.

 

Carolyn L. Mazloomi (American, 1948–). Gathering of Spirits, 1997, cotton, silk, beads, metallic thread, shells. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Dennis and Betty Chafin Rash, Lee and Mebane Rash Whitman, and Jim Rash in loving memory of Margaret Rabb Rash. 1999.1. © Carolyn L. Mazloomi 1998

 

‘Art helps kids find a voice. I teach kids to use it to express even if they don’t want to actually say the words out loud yet.’

‘Comics, graphic novels, and literature in general have always been a voice and vehicle’

A longtime teacher and supporter of the Mint Museum, artist Wolly McNair creates stories through his illustrations. McNair’s “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War” illustrations were featured as part of the 2019 Never Abandon Imagination: : The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi exhibition at Mint Museum Randolph. He’s also has been an active instructor with The Mint Museum’s Grier Heights Community Youth Arts Program since 2009.

Wolly McNair is a Charlotte-based illustrator. His illustrations, “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War,” were part of the Mint Museum Randolph exhibit, “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi.”

McNair found a love for drawing as a child, and received ample encouragement from his family. He created a business to include character design, story-boarding, animation, writing and illustrating for local and national companies. He self-publishes through his brand GOrilla Bred Publishing and currently is working on a couple of his own “intellectual properties.”

“One is a sorta of ‘what if’ story called Super Bastard. Every aspect of the name plays into the DNA of the story. It deals with the idea of power meeting endless power. What happens when the voiceless finally gain a voice and can enact real change by any means chosen. No more asking,” McNair says. “Using super heroes allows it to be entertaining while having a message and not become preachy. I think comics, graphic novels, and literature in general has always been a voice and vehicle to that can place people from different walks of life in the shoes of those they least relate to. See the stories and life of others, be it fantasy or reality.”

If that wasn’t enough, he’s also reworking his graphic novel Fairy Tale Knights that he wrote for his daughter after realizing there weren’t many comic books featuring Black characters. He also is working on a follow-up to his single-issue comic King Supreme. “It is more of a traditional comic in aesthetic feel, but nontraditional in some of its subject matter and content.” McNair shares more about his art and how art is a catalyst for change.

 

An illustration from the follow-up to “King Supreme,” one of McNair’s latest projects.

Tell us about the type of art you create.

My work is normally illustration based, but I often work both digital and traditional combining paint, markers, watercolor with digital colors to add texture. On a day-to-day basis, though, I work digital. Professionally I illustrate graphic novels, create worlds for character settings, concepts for characters in film, gaming, and comics.

My more gallery-based work is often larger in scale, and I typically do work that has lots of varied symbolism in it. Some things are literal, while other elements have a reason or meaning for placement. I often do several pieces in a small series with a central, connecting theme. Because I work in a character-driven world, and the world itself is but a stage full of characters, most of my gallery work also has a heavy character-driven base to it. 

Algorithms of B3AR by Wolly McNair

What do you want your art to say to America today, and what conversations do you hope it may spark?

The same as I would have probably wanted 10 years ago, and not just to America, but to the world. That we as a people (Black people or whatever term is considered appropriate) have a varied voice, have a beautiful hidden and forgotten history, and a terrible covered-up and watered-down history, and have influenced culture since there was such a thing. I want people to stop, maybe admire, maybe question, maybe reflect, maybe actually see … then ask questions, listen. Each piece, each series of pieces, all speak to different things, and I rarely completely explain my work cause lots of it is self explanatory, but I also want people to gather their own honest thoughts and start the conversation from there. 

How do race, place, and your environment influence your art?

Race and environment have an influence because both are a part of who and where I am, have been, or plan to be. As the world changes or stays the same, so do the reflections in my art. But the history is always shared as I learn and grow, coming from the background I grew up in, that places a roll in detail, the way I may position elements of a piece, or what I may decide to speak on. Not only I am influenced by these things, I also try to use these elements of who I am and where I am from to influence others in a creative and positive way. 

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during these current events?

Current events are actually the same events, just a different timeline. Many of the things happening have happened so many times before. Some of the “changes” are good to see, but mirror things of the past. I have hope that it will ultimately play out differently, and we are not right back here again. I still create, but I don’t want to create only as a result of another life lost, a continued struggle, racism or classism — I have over 400 years of history to use for that type of influence. I can, and do, create from that space without needing more of it. This doesn’t mean the fight is given up, it just means these events — good and bad — shouldn’t have to keep repeating. I’d rather get inspiration from seeing and knowing my kids won’t have to go through this and can live a happy life. Seeing them smile, not cry, not be afraid, not have to be strong would be so much more inspirational.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now?

I just want to see a power shift. Power to the people. We already have a positive perspective or we wouldn’t keep getting up everyday, but I understand that those in true power have to come to an understanding, or no longer hold those positions, for the change to actually come and stay intact. I have seen people who only viewed life from where they sit come to realizations from my own personal conversations, and that was good to see.

More allies. I just want to see things handled better, artists of color given fair chances to speak and be properly compensated, voices amplified, corruption called out, and the people standing for each other instead of over each other. 

lOckS by Wolly McNair.

How do you believe art can be a positive influence on kids?

Art helps kids find a voice. I teach kids to use it to express even if they don’t want to actually say the words out loud yet. Art helped me to write, and writing helped to add to my art and the stories I wanted to tell. Art allows an escape as well. It opens up the mind, and it teaches discipline for many — patience and perseverance. Most importantly, it allows expression. I simply think it is needed, maybe not for every child, but it can be a lifesaver or game changer for many. Even in simply teaching kids how art can be used daily, and the options that are out there, at an early age can help them figure out the path that works for them, and test options as they grow. 

What are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?

I’m not reading much, other than the autobiography of Malcom X. I am listening to James Baldwin a lot lately, and Fred Hampton speeches, and Malcom debates and speeches. I go back to them from time to time. I have a stack of comic books and graphic novels that I haven’t read for mixed reasons, in part due to things I’m currently working on and not wanting to have any other creative elements that aren’t mine creep in.I listen to a lot of instrumental music, including Future Garage/Wave stuff — Nipsey Hussle, Lil baby. I listen to a wide range of things as I work based on where I want my mind to be. My son also creates his own music, so I listen in on it. My daughter is learning piano, so I listen to her. She’s self-teaching at age 9. They prove to me what is possible. I guess I am creating things that hopefully will aid others in the future more than anything.If I do watch anything, it’s the TV show Goodtimes, documentaries, an anime, or Property Brothers or something about buying or renovating houses. It is a different world for a few minutes per day.

Who are you following on social media right now, and why?

I follow a few people of course, but I honestly just float through looking at random things and seeing what catches my eye. There are tons of dope artists out there doing cool things.

HB2 Squirrels shake up expectations of social norms and shine spotlight LGBTQIA+ issues

HB2 Squirrels shake up expectations of social norms,  shine spotlight on LGBTQIA+ issues

HB2 Squirrels, a pair of gender-symbol-wielding squirrels covered in multicolored war paint greet visitors in the main entryway of Mint Museum Uptown. The squirrels, part of The Mint Museum collection, pose a striking opposition to expectations of social norms and what one expects to be met with in a museum.

 

Michelle Erickson. “HB2 Squirrels,” 2016, salt-glazed stoneware, porcelain slips. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Charles W. Beam Accessions Endowment. 2019.3a-b

The HB2 Squirrels were inspired by North Carolina’s House Bill 2, commonly referred to as the “bathroom bill.” HB2 required residents to use the bathroom in public facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate, launching a national outcry over civil liberties. The bill was criticized for impeding the rights of transgender people and other people in the LGBTQIA+ community who do not identify strictly within the gender binary, and was later repealed by N.C. Governor Roy Cooper.

Artist Michelle Erickson, outraged, took to her potter’s wheel. The result: two salt-glazed stoneware squirrels, grasping the gender symbols—one drenched in the colors of the American flag, the other in the colors of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow flag. “Congressional acts are temporary,” she says “but art is forever.”

The composition of the squirrels also was crucial. The squirrels face each other, seemingly holding their assigned gender symbols as weapons used to fight one another. The female symbol, a circle with a cross stemming down, is inverted and held by the squirrel to mirror the way the male symbol is held. Erickson said inverting the symbol was a call to uprooting the traditional view of women as a shield. 

The color of the squirrels is also indicative of the message being sent. Both have rainbow colored lines covering their face and body. Erickson said she wanted to use the rainbow motif instead of the colors of the transgender flag, to place a gentle reminder that transgender individuals are included as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The squirrels also have different base bodies. The choice to make one black and one white was a conscious decision to ground it in societal tensions involving race, and to highlight the different viewpoints that stem from race within the LGBTQIA+ community.

When working with a new piece Erickson says she “allows the work to take [her.]” She starts with a design, but as the piece of clay is being shaped, it gradually takes on a new form. The overall product is as much a reflection of the process as it is the original idea.

HB2 Squirrels are a part of the past and present, she says, representing the processes of the Moravian potters, as well as speaking to the heightened political atmosphere surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues, and specifically the HB2 bill that was introduced in North Carolina in 2016. The resulting work of art challenged norms through revitalizing old processes and questioning societal implications.

The idea that became the HB2 Squirrels began as a study of a set of figural bottles from the 18th or 19th century. Erickson says the bottles originally intrigued her due to their lack of clear function and their unique construction. The bottles’ unglazed interior and overall shape indicated that they were made using a cast or mold. During her artist residency  at STARworks, Erickson began using traditional techniques with salt-glazed stoneware to see if she could create a similar design. The original designs of the squirrels were modified to be reflective of the modern era.

‘I hope we all can learn to see the value in slowing down,’ says Asheville-based artist Nava Lubelski

‘I need time and space to make work, but my inspiration most often comes from messes and mistakes.’

Asheville-based fiber artist Nava Lubelski transforms textiles with embroidery that pierces through splashes of stain and color. She fills tears and holes with delicate lace stitching that result in abstract creations. Her piece Chance of Flurries, 2011 is part of the permanent collection at The Mint Museum.

Studio location: Asheville, North Carolina

 

Nava Lubelski at home with her 7-year-old son.


Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Rina Bannerjee, Ghada Amer, Bruce Naumann, Lee Krasner, Tom Friedman, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sarah Sze.

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I’m fond of Day Dreams, 2008. I feel like the simplified color palette highlights the juxtaposition between luscious, detailed stitching and wild, organic splatters. I also am proud of the piece in the Mint Museum collection, Chance of Flurries, 2011.  

Nava Lubelski (American, 1968–). Chance of Flurries, 2011, acrylic paint and hand stitching on canvas. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Mike and Betsy Blair in memory of Catherine Schiff Blair. 2016.31

How does your environment influence your art?

I respond to both chaos and calm. I need time and space to make work, but my inspiration most often comes from messes and mistakes. 

The yellow is”Tidying Up, 2020,” acrylic paint, hand-stitched thread and manufactured trimming on canvas.

 Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I’m finding it hard to focus on my usual work right now, with a kid at home full-time, and have been playing with more immediate projects, mailing out impromptu handmade books and working on drawings. Luckily, I am an imperfectionist, so I just believe in trying hard and seeing what happens, but it doesn’t have to go a certain way.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I hope we all can learn to see the value in slowing down. I think people are already seeing clearly that things are not and have not been working well for all of us.

What does your daily routine look like now? Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

My husband has closed his office, so my work space right now is filled with a lot of additional equipment and in turn I’ve sprawled out into the living room. My afternoons tend to be busy with family/dog walks in the woods. Mornings are when I can catch some alone time. I enjoy lying in the dark and seeing what comes. I’m not someone who fears insomnia. I appreciate the quiet and the dark, and the chance to feel what I’m feeling and hear my own thoughts, though they aren’t always pleasant. 

“The Deadly Ooh Business, 2020,” acrylic paint, hand-stitched thread, yarn and wire on canvas.

What’s you cooking these days?

I like cobbling together Indian-type meals. I’m not good at following recipes, but I’m pretty good at winging it.

What are you currently reading?

At the moment it’s mostly news, although I read Red Clocks not too long ago. Most of my reading stamina lately seems to be used up by reading Fablehaven to my son.

What is your favorite music choice?

My husband has been at home playing guitar all day, so that’s pretty much my soundtrack right now.

What is your favorite podcast?

For easy entertainment I like Reply All.

Mark Newport on knitting to relieve stress, the power of punk, and the best chocolate chip cookie ever

‘I would like us to realize we are all interconnected and interdependent, and act with empathy,’ says artist Mark Newport.

Mark Newport is the artist-in-residence and head of fiber at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. A self-described fiber artist who has worked with print, photography, video and performance art, his most recent work includes traditional European and American mending techniques on used garments. His work Batman in Barcelona is part of the Mint’s permanent collection.

Studio location: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

 

Artist and educator Mark Newport. Photo by Jeff Cancelosi


Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Louise Bourgeois, Ed Paschke, Lee Bowery, Mardi Gras Indian costumes (Demond Melancon), and outsider art environments (Fred Smith Concrete Park).


What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I don’t have one favorite. I am usually most interested in the piece I am working on or the piece I just finished. I think that is because the work is a step in a process of thinking and exploring, so I am involved in what I am doing in the moment. While I am interested in the work when it is finished, I also am already involved in the next thing that grows from what is finished.

“Redress 4”

How does your environment influence your art?

My work is currently small in scale and portable, so I only need a comfortable chair and good light to work. I prefer a space that is basically a white box with little on the walls beyond what I am currently working on. I also prefer to be able to control the sounds in the space—music, podcasts, movies or television, or silence.

Tell us about your new morning routine.

I wake up around 7 a.m. I usually do some exercise, then eat and read a little. I also play a game of Sudoku or two, and look at Instagram and email. I try to get to the studio by 9 a.m. or so. Between March 13 and last week, I was teaching online, so I was up a little earlier to get to Zoom meetings with colleagues and students.

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I have been working on projects that started before the stay-at-home order, so I have not really found new inspiration. I am starting to look at the work in different ways because of the virus and the idea of something we can’t see moving between and into bodies. Likewise, I think ideas around healing, mending, and repair are taking on new elements and references in this moment.

Tell us about your afternoon. Are you working from home, going to your studio?

After lunch I work more in the studio for a few hours, take a walk with the dog for about an hour, and then spend some time writing songs and practicing bass and guitar. Before all of this I was in two rock bands. We were writing and developing music, and performing in the area.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I would like us to realize we are all interconnected and interdependent, and act with empathy. I would also like to see us embrace the idea that all tasks and jobs are important, and that people should be able to earn a living wage from all jobs. And how about universal healthcare?

“Amends 2”


How are you winding down your day? Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

Dinner with my wife, then we watch TV, and I usually knit. Sometimes I play backgammon on my phone. Knitting is my stress reliever.

What are you cooking? What’s your comfort food of choice?

I am a purely functional cook, and the second-tier cook in my family. I did make some cookies using a recipe from Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. They were sharing their recipes on Instagram and I tried to make their chocolate chip macaroons. They were edible, but I didn’t get them right. I will try again and hopefully I can go back to Haystack someday and eat them there.

What are you currently reading?

Working for the Clampdown—The Clash, the Dawn of Neoliberalism and the Political Promise of Punk

What is your favorite music choice?

Punk, ska and rock. I am listening to The Clash as I answer this.

What are your favorite podcasts?

Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, Revisionist History, Beyond and Back